There were a few pleasant surprises at the May NDCAP meeting.
Emergency Planning & Paying for Oversight
The state of Vermont is resurrecting the EPZ! The state will take on responsibility for emergency planning beginning this July. It hopes to continue until the highly radioactive spent fuel rods are out of the spent fuel pool and in dry cask storage. The VT Dept. of Emergency Management will bill Entergy for the work. Their staffer, Erica Borneman, said a draft of the EPZ state plan will be published before the end of June.
In addition, the Dept. of Health, Agency of Natural Resources, and Dept. of Agriculture will conduct oversight of non-radiological activity at Vermont Yankee, such as water monitoring, and bill Entergy for it.
Billing Entergy for both the EPZ and oversight are made possible by a last minute addition to the state’s budget for 2017. “Bill back” is a common practice; the state does the work then charges the entity which has a Certificate of Good from the Public Service Board. The new language in the budget bill, “monitoring the post-closure activities of any nuclear generating plant within the state,” will allow the state agencies to bill back. Otherwise, a department would have to go to the PSB for approval to bill each expense.
Entergy is probably going to want to take all these expenses from the decommissioning trust fund. Chris Recchia, Commissioner of the Dept. of Public Service, expects a fight. He also said emergency planning and monitoring non-radiological substances are not decommissioning, and so should not be drawn from the trust fund.
STATE COMMENTS ON NEW DECOMMISSIONING RULES
This agenda item started with an explanation that only a bureaucrat could love by our state nuclear engineer of the byzantine process by which the NRC will create the new decommissioning rules. We were then rewarded for our patience with three presentations by the state. Vermont’s comment to the NRC was over 100 pages long. It was drafted by Vermont and joined by NY, CT, NH and MA.
It had everything I would have asked the NRC to do.
All decommissioning should be complete within 10 years of closure. No SAFSTOR. Public health and environmental monitoring must continue until decommissioning is complete. Any reactor undergoing decommissioning when the rule is approved should be subject to the new rule. Host communities and states should have a seat at the table and “be on an equal footing with licensees [owners].” Emergency planning should stay in place until the fuel is in dry casks. Prepare for terrorists, sabotage, fire, and natural disasters. NRC approval of the PSDAR (Post Shut Down Assessment Report). Community advisory panels must be independent, not run by the reactor owner. Transparent use of the Decommissioning Trust Fund, and no use of the fund for spent fuel management.
I could go on, but at the end of the hour my only public comment was “Thank you.” It was clear from the presentations that, once again, Vermont is acting as David fighting Goliath, taking the lead in an issue that impacts citizens across the country. It was also clear that the state’s team knows their issues inside and out (at long last). What will happen if the Governor is a Republican next year?
TAXES: An Unpleasant Surprise
Did you know that the IRS collects a 20% tax on the Decommissioning Trust Fund? Not many of us did. It is yet another new twist – and another drawback – to the “merchant” status of Vermont Yankee. Because it is owned by a corporation, the trust fund is taxed. From 2005 to 2014, $34 Million in federal income taxes came out of Yankee’s DTF. The state of Vermont does not tax the fund. Public utilities are non-profits. Their trust funds are not subject to the tax, so no taxes were taken out prior to Entergy’s purchasing the reactor. [Vt Digger covered the issue this week.]
Speaking of the DTF, Entergy reported that, thanks to a “positive market,” the fund gained $12 million between February and April, even though Entergy continued to take money out. Entergy also deposited its third (of five) payment of $5 million into the “Site Restoration Fund,” which brings that total to date to $15 million.
STILL WAITING …
The State is still waiting for a decision by the NRC on using the DTF for radioactive waste management, and on shrinking the EPZ while there is still radioactive waste in the pool. Everyone is still waiting to hear from the Public Service Board (PSB) on the location of the new pad for dry cask storage. A few weeks ago, the New England Coalition formally accused two of Entergy’s witnesses of filing “false and misleading information” to the PSB. NEC disputes Entergy testimony The PSB ruled against them this week, as too late and not that the Coalition did not “raise[s] sufficient questions as to warrant further investigation.” [VtDigger 6.3.16]
IMAGINE IT GONE
We all know how downright depressing talking nukes can be. The feds are against us, the corporation can’t be trusted, the science is scarier than hell, and the odds of making any headway are slim to none. Most of the NDCAP panelists were new to this when they took their seats 18 months ago. For a few, the experience has been a real wake-up call on the corporate capture of democracy. So who can blame them for getting excited about shipping the pieces, parts, and low level waste out of Vermont once and for all?
In mid May, about 15 officials from the US Dept. of Energy toured the Yankee site, checked out the railroad tracks, and gave an enthusiastic two thumbs up to their condition to transport Yankee’s detritus out of here. At the last minute, a few NDCAP panel members were invited to join the show and tell. VtDigger covers their visit here. The good news is that the regional center that oversees spent fuel transportation east of the Mississippi River is in Burlington, Vermont. One panel member reported that the DOE estimated it will take 10,000 train car loads to ship the demolished reactor in pieces and parts to the WCS nuclear repository in Andrews, Texas, which has a contract with Vermont. When it is time to move the radioactive fuel in the casks, for security reasons the lead car has to be able to see the end car, so only 7 casks will be allowed per train.
As to where the radioactive waste would go … all excitement came to a screeching halt. Which makes sense: there is no facility. Which leads us to the next topic of discussion:
Not the kind of consent when one romantic partner asks of another, “may I touch you here?”
This consent is when the US government asks: “can we put waste in your town that will be highly radioactive for the next 100,000 years of so? We don’t know how to make it safe, but we will figure something out.”
Searching for a solution post-Yucca, the President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Nuclear Waste decided on a “consent based” siting process. Andrews County in Texas said yes. Why consent to that Andrews is a poor rural county. It is now the home of two “low-level” rad waste dumps owned by Waste Control Specialists (WCS), and the county receives “5% of gross receipts” from the low level waste.
On April 28, the French company AREVA, an international firm, NACL, and WCS applied for a permit to build an “interim” high level radioactive waste storage facility there. If all goes well, WCS expects to have it built “as early as 2021.” http://wcsstorage.com/
The WCS dumps are where Vermont’s “low-level” radioactive waste goes, as part of the Texas-Vermont Compact. The compact was originally just our two states. Then the Compact voted to welcome waste from more states [VtDigger 2012]. Now, it wants to expand and add highly radioactive waste. This radioactive waste creep is exactly what we feared would happen – as did the voters of Andrew County. Although WCS boasts of local support, approval of the low-level sites passed by only three votes. The site is close to the huge Ogallala aquifer. The fight to open the two WCS low-level waste dumps reads like an environmental crime novel, with re-drawn maps, bought-off commissioners, and dirty deals. The builder was a major contributor to the Bush campaign and a Karl Rove crony. (Here is one Texan’s synopsis.)
Sarcasm Alert: But what does dirty Texas politics have to do with us, right? Aren’t we all just eager to see it all gone?
THREE MORE NUKES TO CLOSE
Let’s close on a positive note, shall we? Exelon – the largest nuclear corporation in the US – announced that it would shut down its two Quad City reactors and the single unit at Clinton in 2018. They are losing money and the State of Illinois declined to force the ratepayer or state taxpayers to subsidize them. Read briefs in Beyond Nuclear which note other reactors in financial straits. A month ago, NIRS posted a piece on its Safe Energy blog about Exelon, “quite likely the nation’s greediest electric utility.”
Vermont Yankee’s closure for “economic reasons” started the dominoes falling. Which one is next?
Leslie Sullivan Sachs
Safe & Green Campaign